MSS-049-Researching Ancestors in France with the French Genealogy Blog

Episode 049-June 7, 2016

MSS-049-Title header

Ready to research your French-Canadian ancestors back to their origins in France? Do you need help knowing where to look? Do you need a strategy, a plan of attack?

Anne Morddel, professional genealogist and author of The French Genealogy Blog, is here to offer tons of advice. She shares her knowledge of French websites and repositories as well as tips for preparing to research in France.

Researching Ancestors in France with the French Genealogy Blog

In this episode, Anne and I discussed the following:

  • Before researching in France, a genealogist needs to do a thorough job in American and Canadian archives first, as well as checking online sites.
  • All French records are arranged by location first, then chronologically, so it’s imperative to know the place of baptism, marriage, or burial to begin your search.
  • Many genealogy associations, or cercles, have created indexes over the years to their portion of the records. Commercial enterprises like and are gradually purchasing these indexes. This gives hope that some day there may be a national index.
  • There is a 75-year restriction on access to birth and marriage records in France.

Departmental Archives (Archives départementales)

FGB links to Departmental Archives

Sample of links to departmental archives from FGB website

  • Once you have an ancestral town, you need to determine what department it’s in. Then you can go to the website of the departmental archives. Almost all departmental archives are now online and have digitized their parish and civil registrations. Most of these are copies of the films from the Family History Library. Many archives have also digitized more than what is found at the Family History Library. You can easily link to the departmental archives by going to Anne’s blog and scrolling down the left-hand side bar.
  • Even if you know the name of the province your town was in, you first need to locate it’s current department. The easiest way to do that is to look up the town in Wikipedia. Most town names still exist. Current departments are located in the right side bar. Just make sure you have the correct town and not another by the same name. In many cases, the information about French towns in the English Wikipedia pages is not as in depth as that in the French version of Wikipedia.
  • Wikipedia has information on the old provinces of France in French (scroll down to the map) and in English. Modern departments can be found in French and in English. The English page includes a map with the new departments superimposed over the old provinces. Click on each map to enlarge it.
  • Departmental archives also carry military records and censuses. Nationwide censuses begin in 1836; Paris censuses begin in the 1920s. However, there are other regional censuses as well.
  • Church records are in the departmental archives. After the revolution, the government required churches to turn over all registers for baptisms, marriages, and burials to the departmental archives. These records often go back to the 1500s. Contacting a diocese, except for records of the past 100 years (and then you need to prove relationship), will get you nowhere.

Municipal Archives (Archives municipales)

  • Many large cities like Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, Nantes, and Brest have municipal archives online. Google ‘Archives municipales’ and the city name. Each might carry its own copy of the civil records which might have slight variations from the copy at the departmental archives.

National Archives (Archives nationales)

Archives Nationales d’Outre-Mer (ANOM)
  • ANOM includes parish and civil registrations for overseas colonies, as well as colonial administration records. You might also find court cases and affidavits.
Mémoires des Hommes


Consequences of War

  • There are times when you will find that the records simply no longer exist due to France’s involvement in many wars. Many archives in Brittany were destroyed during WWII. Brest was flattened during the allied bombing. The naval archives in many ports were destroyed. Many of the northern archives were also destroyed in WWI.
  • There are key areas of France from which many of our ancestors emigrated. Some of the archives in the north, such as Rouen, were damaged during the war but not as severe as in Brittany. Others like Seine-Maritime and Charente-Maritime fared much better.
  • Parisian archives, which consisted of some 8,000,000 registrations, were completely wiped out in the Paris Commune of the 1870s. There was a community effort to replace these records by having citizens bring in copies of documents. You can search an estimated 2,000,000 of these records which are indexed on the website of the Paris Departmental Archives.

Other Resources to Check before Traveling to France

  • Facebook pages for genealogy groups: Search in Facebook for ‘généalogie’ and location. You can make contact with people researching the same area and possibly the same family.
  • Genealogy cercles (’societies’ here): Check for both a Facebook page and a website. A search for ‘cercle généalogique’ in Google brings up 256,000 results. A perusal of the website for the cercle in Aunis revealed some members’ ahnentafel charts and PDF copies of their journal.

When Visiting France

  • Prepare!!
  • Write to the mayor of a town or village ahead of time. Send a copy of the birth registration of your ancestor. Ask to make a presentation of the family genealogy, and bring a copy with you to donate.
  • Write to the cercle from the area and ask for a meeting, again with a copy of your family genealogy to donate.
  • Be aware of national holidays and that most archives are closed for two weeks in August and between Christmas and New Years Day.
  • Check a repository’s Inventaire sommaire, or finding aid, ahead of time to see what’s available that you cannot get from home. Some of these are on Internet Archive, and most are on Gallica, the website for the National Library. Anne suggests searching here because you can include a surname as a search parameter. Find what you need and bring the code with you to the archives.
  • Look for family trees online (yes, they have to be verified!) at Heredis Online, (top left, look for ‘Retrouvez vos ancêtres en quelques clics;’ put surname in top box),, and
  • Have a backup plan.

Resources Mentioned

Books by Anne MorddelFrench Genealogy from Afar cover

Anne’s Blog: The French Genealogy Blog

The purpose of Anne’s blog, the French Genealogy Blog, is to explain in English how to use French resources. When you go to many of the websites that she recommends and you don’t speak French well, you may find yourself lost. So below I have links to many of her particular posts which explain how to use the website in more detail:

The French Genealogy Blog Free Clinic

  • Occasionally Anne conducts free clinics on her blog for people who have a research problem, a brick wall, which she feels may be of interest to many. She will then post her research suggestions on her blog for free.
Anne’s Offer
  • Anne has made a very generous offer for listeners of this podcast. If enough of you send in your French brick wall problems to her and you mention that you heard about it on the Maple Stars and Stripes podcast, she has offered to come back on the podcast to do a Maple Stars and Stripes series on the Free Clinic. So here’s your chance to get some help busting through those brick walls.

Contacting Anne


The winner of a copy of Hélène’s World: Hélène Desportes of Seventeenth-Century Quebec by Susan McNelley is Patricia Evans from Virginia. Congratulations, Patricia!


Survey question from episode #48: Do you know anyone who has or that you suspect has a French-Canadian genetic disease?

  • Results:
  • Yes – 48%
  • No – 40%
  • I suspect, but I’m not sure – 12%
  • Survey 48 chart
Survey #49

This episode’s question is: Have you begun researching your ancestors in France? Possible answers are Yes; No, and I don’t plan to; or No, but I will eventually. So be sure to participate in survey #49.

French-Canadian News

Whats Happening HeaderThe Franco-American Centre

  • Saturday, June 18, 3-5 PM, Ste Marie’s Church and School in Manchester: join in a family celebration of Franco-American Day. “Bring the kids and grand-kids to celebrate Franco-American culture and heritage.” Events will include a pétanque tournament (bowling tournament). There will be teaching of French songs, arts and crafts, face painting and costume making, and then the kids can show it all off in a mini parade. Then from 5:30-6:30 PM, at Ste Marie’s Church: celebrate mass in acknowledgment of St-Jean-Baptiste, the patron saint of Franco-Americans. Following mass is a Franco-American Day reception and concert, but the deadline for purchasing tickets was June 3rd. So I hope you already have yours.
  • June 26, 12:30-3:30 PM, the Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in Manchester: the Franco-American Centre will participate in the NH PoutineFest 2016. Your ticket to the PoutineFest includes admission to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats game, all in celebration of Franco-American heritage.


The Quebec Family History Society

  • Friday, June 10, 7-10 PM at 61 Somerset, Baie d’Urfé: the Quebec Family History Society will hold a wine-tasting fundraiser.
  • Saturday, June 18, 1-3 PM: Gary Schroder will present What’s New in British and Canadian Military Records 1760-1945. Classes are held at the QFHS Heritage Centre and Library in Pointe-Claire, Quebec.


Sponsors/Affiliates Check out their course offerings here.

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